Library Girl: How NANCY PEARL Became America’s Most Celebrated Librarian by Karen Henry Clark

Library Girl (May 2022, Penguin Random House, Sasquatch Books) is an incredibly inspiring, well-crafted, true tale of unsung heroine Nancy Pearl and her lifelong commitment to literacy joy for herself and others, namely children. Across the beautifully illustrated (by Sheryl Murray) 32 pages, readers follow a young Nancy (born in 1945, in Detroit Michigan) away from the discerning eyes of her peers on the playground (they think her love of reading is weird) and into the school library. Surrounded by her “best friends” (the characters in her books) and encouraged by Miss Glenn, the school librarian, the library becomes Nancy’s favorite place. The only problem is Saturdays — there’s no school. When Miss Glenn tells Nancy about the public library that’s nearby and open on Saturdays, “Hope fluttered like pages turning in Nancy’s heart”. Miss Glenn even drew Nancy a map.

The next Saturday, Nancy’s imagination ran wild as she raced to the library on Charger, her trusty steed, which was actually her bike. (Check out the photograph of Nancy and the “real” Charger in Karen Henry Clark’s Author’s Note!) Nancy Pearl had no way of knowing that when she entered the Francis Parkman Branch of the Detroit Public Library that morning, she’d meet Frances Whitehead, the woman who would both change her life and inspire her life’s work.

Miss Whitehead (along with another librarian, Miss Long) welcomes Nancy into the library with open arms, expresses interest in her interests (horses, of course!), and fosters her love of reading. Still weary of the potential for kids to pick on her, Nancy takes her stack of horse books and finds a “magical” spot under a table in the library where she can be “invisible”. The public library quickly transforms from simply a safe space where Nancy can blissfully devour books of every genre to “the place where she belonged.”

After she reads every horse book in the library, Miss Whitehead and Miss Long give Nancy a nudge by asking her to give a talk about horse books to other kids. Knowing how difficult this would be for Nancy, Miss Whitehead asks her a simple but empowering question: “What helps you feel brave?” Accompanied by her collection of toy horses, Nancy pushes through her biggest fears, stands in front of an audience of other kids, and passionately shares all she’s learned about horses. When she’s finished, the spellbound children erupt into applause and Nancy becomes a local celebrity of sorts. The kids return week after week and gather around her to talk about books. With the support and encouragement of Miss Whitehead and Miss Long, Nancy had “found her own magic”. By age ten, she aspired to be a librarian when she grew up. Which is exactly what she did.

Order your own copy of Library Girl by Karen Henry Clark, Illustrated by Sheryl Murray

Author Karen Henry Clark’s childhood story is not dissimilar to Nancy Pearl’s. In KHC’s bio, she shares how she started daydreaming about writing picture books back in first grade. As an adult, KHC quickly learned that “Getting into print was harder than she realized.” (Fellow Writers can certainly relate!) So, how did she do it? A lifelong dream + perseverance + working other jobs to make a living + support from a dear friend: Nancy Pearl herself!

In our email exchange, KHC described the critical moment that jump-started her dream to become a writer (see below), but she tells the story best here: Library Girl Book Talk Video (31 min. mark).

“Nancy and I became friends when we worked in a Tulsa bookstore in the 1980s. One afternoon, local noteworthy author Susie Hinton (S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders) entered and browsed fiction as Nancy and I stared. Nancy whispered, ‘Karen, I think you could write a book.’ I whispered back that I didn’t think I’d know how but believed that she could do it. Well, we both admitted we wanted to be authors but were clueless about how to make it happen. Nevertheless, we cheered each other on for decades until we’d both accomplished our dream.”

Karen Henry Clark

Nancy also went on to write books — about books!

Karen Henry Clark and Nancy Pearl taking a look at an early draft of the art for Library Girl.

Although this post is on the lengthier side for a PB review (Please forgive me, it’s my very first book review!) I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring attention to the talented illustrator, Sheryl Murray. SM brought the story to life page by page after a deep dive into the archives for photographs and floor plans of the Francis Parkman Branch Library. In this video (at the 15:40 mark) Library Girl Book Talk SM shares her fascinating artistic process. The illustrations are whimsical but don’t get lost gazing across the page spreads because the real magic is in the little details.

“The library itself is a character in the book
and needed to be represented.”

Illustrator Sheryl Murray, in a December 2022 interview (youtube video)

Thank you, Karen, for reaching out to Writer’s Rumpus and sending along a copy of Library Girl. Your story, along with Nancy’s, is truly inspiring for the entire Kidlit community. I am honored to have read and reviewed LG and look forward to including it on my school’s library acquisition list. Congratulations to you and Nancy on seeing your dreams to fruition.

Check out Karen Henry Clark’s Website:

KHC’s debut picture book, Sweet Moon Baby, is a beautiful story about adopting her daughter from China.

Do you have a “critical moment” that jump-started your dream to become a writer? Share it here…


  1. Karen, your connection to Nancy Pearl is so heartwarming and inspiring! Thank you, Keri, for introducing us to these amazing women and this wonderful book.


  2. Also, the critical moment that jumpstarted my dream to become a writer was reading AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman, and then taking his Master Class on writing. His encouragement and candor made my longtime dream seem possible for the first time in a long time.


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